Doss blazes a trail for his hometown

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Doss is chipping in nearly 10 points a game for the Spartans. More importantly, the senior is on track to graduate.
Manchester athletics photo

By Joe Sager

Basketball can open many doors.

Kenny Doss has seen it himself.

Growing up in the Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, there were plenty of paths for Doss and many youngsters like him to take. Basketball provides a chance to escape the violence and crime that befall many in the same situation.

Now, Doss is dedicated to helping create even more chances for youngsters in his neighborhood – and beyond.

The Manchester University senior oversees Bridging the Gap Globally, a not-for-profit organization that uses basketball to foster unity among rival neighborhoods. It all started when Doss’s father and uncle decided to help fix up a basketball court in their neighborhood in 2011 and organize basketball tournaments. Doss took over as president of the organization and has helped it grow into a very active and popular fixture.

“We have three games a day, three days a week just to give kids in the neighborhood something to do,” he said. “Every team is from a different block in the city of Chicago. Those guys usually don’t interact with each other. It’s a way to bring them together on mutual ground and a different way to release anger instead of by violence.”

At first, the idea of bringing neighborhood rivals together for basketball games was met with resistance.

“It started out very rough,” Doss said. “My father and uncle started it out but they couldn’t really reach the younger crowd. I can reach the kids because they can see what all I have been through.

“When it first started, it was a very hostile place because of the gang violence. Some guys from this side of Englewood are not allowed on that side of Englewood, for example. There were a lot of hard fouls and things were intense. Now, it’s at a point where I see kids from different blocks talking to each other when that would have never happened before. We’ve done a pretty good job opening up the city.”

Doss helped bring the young players together by reaching out to some of the older people in the neighborhoods. All teams must shake hands after the games, too.

“The older guys, we get them to coach the kids because they look up to them,” Doss said. “They have to shake hands, too. When the kids see the coaches shake hands, they can think, ‘Hey, if they can put aside their differences, so can we.’ It’s a great environment.”

The games became so popular, they drew interest from throughout the communities.

“Over time, we had so many people coming, everyone surrounded the court. So, some of the guys from the neighborhoods who are handymen, they helped build bleachers. Now, there are plenty of places for everyone to sit.”

Members of the Bridging the Gap Globally team renovate a basketball court in Doss's hometown.
Manchester athletics photo

In addition to basketball games, there are family activities available, too.

“We have DJs and performing artists come out. We offer snow cones and a jump house – everything is free. We don’t charge for anything. It’s a safe haven for the elderly, the young, single mothers – whatever category you fall in, it’s just a place where you can come in and have fun and let loose and not think about the violence that’s going on in the rest of the city,” Doss said.

Other than the regular summer basketball games, there are Thanksgiving and Christmas tournaments, too. But, the mission of fellowship, education and mentoring never stops.

“It’s more than basketball. We started out with basketball because that’s something I play and we use basketball as a hook,” Doss said. “We put on a field trip and took the kids outside of Chicago. Some of them had never been outside the city.

“All the high schools are closing down in Englewood. So, we rented a bus and some community members went down to the board of education to express their concerns. We go around to different high schools and talk to kids and try to help them with college visits and do different activities.

“A lot of times, the kids we are dealing with are the kids no one wants to bother with. We’re trying to encourage them to go back to school and let them know life is not over because they had a run-in with the law or something like that. They still have their whole lives ahead of them. We use Bridging the Gap Globally for motivation.”

Youngsters can look to Doss as a role model. He was a decorated Chicago high school basketball star.

“Coming from the neighborhood, the kids watched me. I remember when they were much younger and I am watching them grow into young adults. We have so much in common. It’s easy for them to talk to me about certain things they’re going through that they wouldn’t talk to with their parents or teachers. It’s nothing like having someone who understands you,” Doss said. “I was all-conference and all-area; I played in the all-star games in the Chicago area. I was really expecting to go Division I. But, I didn’t have the grades. A lot of the times, the kids from the neighborhood don’t understand how important education is until doors close on you.”

Doss experienced that himself. He went from a prep school in Florida to Lincoln College in Illinois, but still couldn’t improve his academics. Then, he went to Cosumnes River College in California.

“That was the turning point in my life. Once you hear a school wants you in California, you get excited and you think about sun and the beach. It was a great opportunity, but turned into the total opposite. When I went there things were good for three weeks, but then we lost our apartment,” Doss said. “I had the determination that I can’t go back home without a scholarship; I couldn’t give up. I had to live up to my expectations. I was living from house to house, not eating every day, sleeping on the floors of my teammates’ places, fending for myself. I realized I was in that situation because I didn’t take advantage of all the opportunities I was blessed with because I didn’t take education seriously.

“I want to help every kid who was on the wrong path like I was. Education is the ultimate key. You could get hurt today and, once basketball is over, then what do you have? I didn’t have any grades or ACT scores to go anywhere. It was very embarrassing,” he continued. “I had coaches and schools calling. I met (Manchester assistant) coach Mason Wood and he blessed me with an opportunity to come there. I don’t know why they took a chance on me. Since then, there’s been no looking back.”

Doss uses basketball as a key to mentoring the youth in Englewood.
Manchester athletics photo

Upon his arrival at Manchester before the 2016-17 basketball season, Doss hit the books and is on track to graduate in December with a business degree.

“I love everything about this school; my adviser Joe Messer is one of the greatest men I have ever met. He gave me the confidence to be who I am today.”

When he came to Manchester, Doss considered just focusing on academics and not playing basketball.

“When I came here, I was done with basketball,” he said. “When I was blessed with an opportunity, all the sacrifices my mother and father gave me – I would have been selfish to not give them a senior night. I am not playing for myself; I am playing for all the kids I preach to and to give my mother and father the satisfaction that all the sacrifices and hard work they did for me have paid off.”

Doss, a guard who averages 9.7 points per game, shares his experience with the young Spartans, too.

“I always talk to the freshmen coming in, to make sure they don’t put the carriage before the horse – use basketball as the ultimate goal to get an education. The goal is to become successful in life,” he said. “Coming from my situation, my parents didn’t go to college, so I had no one to open the door and show me the ropes. Being a young kid from the Chicago area, making my own life decisions – I am not saying I am one of the toughest or strongest guys. I don’t think a lot of people overcome those situations.

“When I talk to the young kids, I always tell them to make sure they find out what the academics are like for any school they want to go to and what position the schools are going to put them in to be successful outside of basketball. I didn’t have anyone to do that for me. I’ll give them advice on what classes to take, too.”

Upon graduation, Doss hopes to begin a successful career in sales. He’s already off to a good start.

“Hopefully I can get into a great company and be a sales rep. I want to go out and talk to people. I feel like I am good at sales. Hopefully, I can keep pushing Bridging the Gap. Hopefully, we can get funding and get a facility to have kids come play all year round,” he said. “There is no YMCA or no Boys and Girls Club in the neighborhood. After laying the foundation in my neighborhood, I’d like to build my own Bridging the Gap Globally facility, so the people there who understand the kids and were once in their shoes have a chance to work with them.”

Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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